WINCHESTER — About 10% of the roughly 4,300 students in Winchester Public Schools do not have internet access at home.

So WPS is partnering with Comcast to sponsor the cost of the company’s Internet Essentials program for eligible households that need internet service.

“We are so excited to help facilitate the process of providing free broadband internet access to many of our students and families who most need it,” Superintendent Jason Van Heukelum said in a statement. “We realize that our families depend on reliable internet for their children to learn at home, as well as for family members to search for jobs, access government and other necessary resources and services, connect to health care providers and so much more.”

The coronavirus pandemic has made having reliable internet service critical for students so they can do homework and take classes online. When Winchester Public Schools opens on Sept. 8 for the 2020-21 school year, more than 1,000 of its students have opted to take their classes online as a result of pandemic. Others have chosen to attend in-person classes two days a week, but they will still need internet access at home to do schoolwork on the other days. The division is prepared to switch to 100% online learning for all students, if deemed necessary.

The school division has allocated $60,000 for the initiative, which is enough to pay for 12 months of service for up to 500 qualified households. The program offers internet speeds of 25Mbps download and 3Mbps upload for a monthly fee of $9.95.

Funding is partially covered through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, in addition to a $20,000 donation from J2W Foundation and a $5,000 donation from Opportunity Scholars.

To qualify, a family must: be eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, VA Assistance or TANF; live in an area where Comcast service is available; have not subscribed to Comcast’s internet service in the last 90 days.

An “Internet for All” task force led by Van Heukelum helped develop the initiative. The group, comprised of school, community and business leaders, has met regularly since early May. K-12 schools across Virginia shuttered in late March over coronavirus concerns.

Funding also will help provide mobile hot spots at each of the division’s seven schools for students with unstable housing situations, the division said in its announcement.

Families interested in applying for the free internet service through Comcast Internet Essentials program will need to provide a special promo code from Winchester Public Schools. To request a promo code from WPS, families need to fill out a request form online at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSe8Y37AH30B2PW31b5OeiuEZa8nOMok0zlh6lsMvxC66vnQmA/viewform

— Contact Anna Merod

at amerod@winchesterstar.com

(1) comment

Catherine Giovannoni

This is great! We also need to improve rural broadband on a permanent basis. That's one reason why I'll be voting for Irina Khanin, who has made improving rural broadband one of her main goals. Our education, businesses, and health services need reliable broadband and Irina will deliver in Richmond.

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